The Women’s Premiership comes to a close with a climactic battle between the top two sides, Valley Black and Gai Wu Falcons, at Happy Valley (16.30).
Valley will be looking to conclude a third straight unbeaten season with a win over Gai Wu and stretch their record to 39 straight league wins over three seasons, including Grand Championship play.
Despite Valley’s historic run, Gai Wu still has a mathematical chance at capturing league honours for the first time since 2013. A bonus point win for the Falcons (while keeping Valley out of the bonus) would hand them the league title on points differential.
Valley is currently top of the table with 54 points. Gai Wu’s only loss this year came against Valley (28-3 in November) leaving them on 10 wins (49 points) and with the better points differential (+29).
Valley coach James Elliot accepts the possibility of losing the league on points, but stresses that two forfeitures this season account for the points differential.
“We have had two forfeits awarded, [league rules allow for 20-0 wins in case of forfeiture], against Football Club and Causeway Bay. We would have expected to post more than 20 points in those games but we are at a deficit now in terms of the differentials,” Elliot acknowledged.
Elliot knows that the easiest solution is a win and he insists his side is well grounded ahead of Saturday’s clash, saying, “Our focus is to win the game and win the league. We’re going to go out and play Valley rugby and win. This is something that we were very clear about in training this week.
“It’s going to be a terrific game. Last time we played them, it was 3-0 at half-time, a big battle. Gai Wu have got great attacking weapons, with more national squad players than any other club,” Elliot added.
Valley are a close second in the number of current and former internationals suiting up with nine Hong Kong and other internationals in the squad for Saturday.
“This will be the toughest match of the season. We’re up for it and I’m sure Gai Wu are too. It’ll be big. It’ll be intense,” Elliot promised. “It will be a really big day for Women’s rugby. It’s great for women’s rugby to have good, competitive games like this,” he added.
Elliot is expecting the battle to again be intense and is looking to his capable back row to offer the edge. “As usual, there will be a lot of action up front, but we both have very good back lines. Both teams have players that can steal the ball. For us, Olivia Coady, Amelie Seure and Toto Cheng will be key. Toto is everywhere on the field and packs a lot of firepower in her small frame,” said Elliot.
Injuries to two of the Falcons’ sevens stars, Aggie Poon Pak-yan and Melody Li Nim-yan, will make Gai Wu’s task that much harder. Angela Chan Ka-yan is also unavailable due to work commitments while Hong Kong front rower Tammy Lau Sze-wah, a lynchpin of the club’s impressive forward pack, is also under injury cloud but is expected to play. Despite the hits to his numbers, Gai Wu coach Lai Yiu-pang is confident in his side’s abilities.
“We’ve got a real chance to win, the target is quite clear. We have to play with 100 percent confidence. We have to play what we train and focus on what we can do, not on the players who are not available.”
Success rides on fundamentals and a fast start for Lai. “If we can get the fundamentals right, we will have a platform to build on. The key is to keep our defence strong and build our attack from there. Valley are strong across the pitch, so we have to be at our best.
“I think whoever gets into the game faster will have the momentum to secure the result. It’s all about getting into the game early on.” Lai, who has been focusing on balancing his attack this season, believes the pieces are coming together in time for another Grand Championship push.
“We’ve got a pretty big forward pack, with quite a few national team players, who bring a lot of experience and energy to our play in that part of the field. In the past, we built our play primarily around our forwards, but this season, we’ve got our wings involved more and are more balanced,” added Lai.
This time last year, Gai Wu were in third place in the league before meeting Valley in the final week of the season, a heavy loss where Valley’s Coady scored five tries. But Gai Wu nearly turned the tables on Valley in a hugely entertaining grand final that came down to the final seconds.
Lai will be looking for that spirit once again: “We’ve talked a lot about the need to play consistent rugby, at the level that we played at in the grand final. There are games where we put 90 points on the board this season, but that doesn’t help us when we play Valley or Tigers, who are the real challenge.
“The key is how we transfer our play and performance in previous games into this crunch match.”
In other Premiership action, third-placed USRC Tigers head to Sports Road for a tie with fourth-ranked HKFC Ice, while CWB Phoenix host City Sparkle at So Kon Po (both at 18.00).
See the full weekend fixture here
Additional reporting and images: HK Rugby